The Island of Hawaii, more fondly called the Big Island, is home to many beautiful natural wonders, such as its famous volcanoes, stunning waterfalls, lush forests, gorgeous beaches, and incredible snorkeling spots. It is also teeming with historical and cultural attractions, giving you a glimpse of the Hawaiian way of life. If you’re looking to explore the island, a little guidance will help you capture all the best sights to see. So, read on below as here are our picks for the top places to visit on the Big Island of Hawaii.
1. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Founded in 1916, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (HVNP) is among the most geologically riveting national parks in the United States. HVNP houses the Kilauea volcano, which is a living attestation to the sheer power of Mother Nature. It is active and breathing and has been continuously erupting since 1983. An awesome experience that the park offers is setting foot on land that’s even younger than you are.
Located at 4,000 feet above sea level and encompassing 333,000 acres, HVNP is of immense natural value. No surprise that it has been designated both as a World Heritage Site and as an International Biosphere Reserve. It’s open 24 hours a day, year-round. Add this place to your itinerary as an array of drives, trails, and other activities, making the visit all worth it.
2. Pololu Valley Overlook
Drive north on Highway 270 and be rewarded with the fascinating views of the Pololu Valley. This northernmost valley is carved into the Kohala volcano in the flourishing, green pastures of Big Island’s Kohala region.
On a sunny day, witness the vibrant blue waters that meet the jarred, steep sea cliffs and the grainy black sand beach. There’s also the skirt of ironwood trees that separates the valley from the ocean. Yet, if you’re in for more down just a small road trip, you can even hike to get a better photo vantage or visit the beach on the valley floor for a full experience.
3. Akaka Falls State Park
Situated along Hamakua Coast near Hilo, the Akaka Falls State Park presents two charming waterfalls, the Akaka Falls and Kahuna Falls. The famous Akaka Falls is among the tallest waterfalls on the Big Island, free-falling at 442 feet (135 meters) fringed by a deep green gorge. Meanwhile, the latter is shorter, standing only 100 (30 meters), but as equally stunning as its popular counterpart. Surrounding the park are the lush tropical greeneries, including bamboo, orchids, and tropical ferns that bring added delight to your visit.
4. Pu’uhonua o Honaunau Historical Park
If you wish to learn more about the Hawaiian traditions, Pu’uhonua o Honaunau Historical Park is your place to go. Formerly called the Place of Refuge at Honaunau, it was once the home of the ruling class of Hawaii. Some of the things to see include the former palace, reconstructed villages, rock and wooden carvings, landing place of canoes, the royal fishpond, and the Ka’ahumanu Stone. See also the beautiful palm-edged beaches and the massive lava rock wall for a beautiful and educational experience.
5. Waipi’o Valley
Nestling along the northeastern part of the Big Island is Waipi’o Valley, the largest valley among the seven valleys situated at Kohala Mountain’s windward site. It’s an incredibly striking valley characterized by deep green-covered cliffs and forested floors. At its mouth lies the mile-long black sand beach that’s divided by the river streaming from the glorious 1,200-feet Hi’ilawe Falls.
Just ready yourself with the sharp and twisting road you need to take going valley, not to mention the more challenging work back up. Rest assured that the effort is all worth it, seeing this beautiful valley that has been perfectly shaped by nature and time’s elements.
6. Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
Though it isn’t a free attraction, find time to stop at Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, touted as one of the most alluring tourist spots in Hawaii. Spanning 40 acres, it is home to over 2,000 species of tropical plants. Through the help of the map provided by the facility, wander your way through the different paths and spend hours knowing, seeing, and capturing shots of the abundant tropical flora in this lush wonderland.
7. Kona Coffee Living History Farm
Kona Coffee Living History Farm is a living history museum that values the heritage of traditional coffee farming in Hawaii. It reflects the life of coffee growers from the 1920s to the 1930s. Learn more about their everyday tasks, from planting to harvesting, roasting, grinding, cooking, and crafting. Don’t miss out on sampling their delicious coffee, as well as lush Hawaiian fruits like passion fruit, guavas, and oranges. While you’re in the place, say hello to the Kona Nightingale, a free-roaming donkey breed that provided assistance to workers during the heyday of coffee farming.
8. Hapuna Beach State Park
One of the main reasons to spend summer in Hawaii is its stunning beaches. A testament to that is Big Island’s Hapuna Beach State Park, a top-rated beach for both tourists and locals. It’s renowned for its half-mile stretch of soft golden sand and beautiful turquoise waters. What people love more about this place is it’s an easy beach to visit, thanks to ample facilities like parking, restrooms, picnic shelters, showers, and food vendors.
It’s the perfect spot to beat the summer heat by swimming as the water is generally warm and calm. Plus, it also offers excellent conditions for other sunbathing, snorkeling, and bodyboarding. If you visit early in the year, you can even have the chance to see migrating whales from a distance.
9. Rainbow Falls State Park
Spanning 129-acre and boasting 3,400 feet of freshwater shoreline on the Chehalis River, Rainbow Falls State Park is another site you shouldn’t forget to visit on the Big Island. Obviously, the main highlight of this camping park is the Rainbow Falls, a gorgeous waterfall whose name was derived from the rainbows frequently arching the falls during early mornings.
Yet, it isn’t all that, as the park also offers other activities like picnics, hiking, nature walks, cycling, fishing, and horseback riding. If you’re a tree lover, you can call this a paradise as you’ll get to witness towering western hemlocks, western red cedar trees, and Douglas-firs in the area. Several bikers, RV, hiker, equestrian, and family campsites are available, so you’ll never have to worry about having a comfortable stay.
10. Incredible Snorkeling Spots
The Big Island holds some of the best snorkeling spots in the entire Hawaiian archipelago. It comprises many beautiful bays that serve where reef fishes, corals, and other and larger marine creatures thrive.
One of the first locations to visit is Kealakekua Bay. It is easily accessible through a boat tour or a kayak. Yet, you can also go for a long hike under the sun if you want a more challenging affair.
Once you reach the area, you’ll enjoy the calm waters and beautiful coastline. This site promises excellent visibility, and some of the most common marine life you’ll see include sea turtles, spinner dolphins, eels, lizard fish, and lots of corals. Apart from being a perfect snorkeling spot, Kealakekua Bay is also considered a sacred site as it is where Captain James Cook landed and met his death at the hands of the natives.
Kahalu’u Beach Park
If you’re new to snorkeling, Kahalu’u Beach Park is your best bet. It’s a shallow bay, which at low tide is brimmed with several tide pools that host high concentrations of tropical fishes. The site is also famed for green sea turtles, and you’ll see them sunning themselves or feeding on seaweed on any given day.
Mauna Kea Beach
Another top snorkeling spot on Big Island is Mauna Kea Beach. It is famous for its evening snorkeling sessions. Mauna Kea Beach Hotel flashes bright lights into the waters during nighttime to attract planktons, which in turn, invites the manta rays and a variety of sea life to feed.
Some other amazing snorkeling places you should consider include Wailea Beach, Manini’owali Beach, and King Kam Beach. Each of which has its own unique offering but is certain to provide you with an unmatched experience with Big Island’s teeming marine life.
Indeed, Hawaii’s Big Island is blessed with some of the most stunning attractions in the Aloha State. Yet, it doesn’t stop there, as there are seven other main islands, several atolls, islets, shoals, and shallow banks that make up the 28,313 km² total area of Hawaii. That means there are lots of fascinating places just waiting for you to explore in this paradise in the Pacific.